The Royal Abbey of Fontevraud is unrivalled in terms of its rich history, closely linked to the history of France and even of Europe. It is also unique in its configuration. You don’t need to know the entire history of Fontevraud to be able to appreciate the importance of this nearly thousand-year old site, part of the Loire Valley’s classification as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
THE MAIN PRIORY AND BEYOND : DIVE INTO THE HEART OF THE ROYAL ABBEY
From the moment you arrive you realise the unusual scale of the site: thirteen hectares of ancient buildings sitting within a lush landscape. At the heart of all this is the main priory, which links the Abbey’s most beautiful buildings – the magnificent abbey church, which overlooks the entire site, the Romanesque kitchens, the chapter house, the cloisters and their gardens regularly adorned by contemporary artworks, the great dormitory that permanently houses a work by Claude Lévêque…
The discovery doesn’t stop there. The Saint-Benoît area and the Saint-Lazare priory are perfect for a stroll, as are the gardens, where vegetables, herbs and fruit trees create the ideal landscape for reflection. The Royal Abbey of Fontevraud is a unique location for a multitude of experiences.
DISCOVERING THE ROYAL ABBEY : SO MANY WAYS TO VISIT
There are many different ways to visit the site: you can independently explore with a guidebook, take a guided or audio-guided visit, a family visit with a children’s trail treasure hunt an iPad, or a group visit for adults or school parties. Finally there are our special ‘unusual’ visits to experience over the course of a day, or even at night…
The Abbey / The Reclining Effigies
Built between 1105 and 1165, the abbey church combines the regional styles of Anjou and Poitou. It is impressive in its sobriety and its scale. The choir, slender and simple, marks the height of the Romanesque. The nave, set lower, contains around a hundred sculpted capitals. Within this remarkable setting are displayed the four reclining effigies of the Plantagenet dynasty: Henry 2nd, King of England, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, previously Queen of France, their son Richard the Lionheart, as well as Isabelle d’Angoulême, wife of their youngest son John Lackland.
The Cloister / The Chapter House
A huge quadrangle made up of four long galleries, the cloister was a place for the nuns to stroll, punctuating their eight daily services. To the east of this is the chapter house, its walls decorated with 16th-century paintings depicting scenes of the Passion of Christ. Over the years, portraits of nuns and abbesses have incongruously been added to these, creating a strange dimension to these sacred works. One wonders what the nun’s might have done with Photoshop!
The Kitchens / A Smokehouse For The Salmon
The byzantine kitchens are the particularity of the Royal Abbey. This building differs from the others in its facades typical of the Poitou region, built in Charente stone. The octagonal form of this building and its roof prickling with pointy chimneys and fish-scale slating, have been a subject of much reflection for historians. The ‘kitchens’ of Fontevraud were in fact a smokehouse, where fish (mostly salmon, then abundant in the Loire) was prepared, constituting the nuns’ staple diet. Fontevraud smoked salmon, a feast for those women living in abstinence!